I am not entirely sure why visiting the Gallipoli Peninsula and its ANZAC memorial sites had been such an important thing to do for me. I don’t have any specific family connection to a first world war soldier who fought there, I am not an amateur war historian with a particular interest, and nor have I ever been to a dawn service parade. I think I just wanted to see for myself this place that has become a beacon in New Zealand’s history.
Visiting there last week in the pouring rain on a day tour from Istanbul with a handful of other New Zealanders and Australians we took in the atmosphere, imagined the scene; the chaos, the fear, the ghastliness, the defeat. We saw the site of the beachfront landing, the remains of front line trenches and restored tunnels used by the Allies and we saw from the top the prize the battle was over: The Dardanelles – a narrow strategic waterway from the Aegean Sea through to the Black Sea.
It is impossible not to be moved by what you see; rows and rows of small stone plaques bearing brief inscriptions of love and loss, pride and duty. Poignant and powerful.
It is a stark and reflective kind of place. The stone memorial to NZ soldiers at the top of Chunuk Bair hill includes the short phrase “From the uttermost ends of the Earth”. The same wording is on many other memorials to WWI soldiers in French battlefields. New Zealand was the very end of the earth, and along with Australian men, young Kiwis came willingly, in anticipation, for adventure, to fight for God, King and Country. Now young and old Kiwis come away from home, willingly, in anticipation, for adventure. The uttermost ends of the earth seem not so remote, and fighting for God King and Country well…..what to say, it’s different now.
It struck me as a little odd at first that at the same site atop Chunuk Bair there is a large bronze statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – commander of the Turkish forces against whom the ANZACs were fighting – commemorating the Turkish victory in that Gallipoli campaign. The victors and vanquished having their memorials at the same spot – but it also made sense to me; now we stand together when we visit, to reflect, to respect and to feel pride.
It seemed to fit with the words of President Ataturk inscribed on another stone memorial at the beachfront at ANZAC cove.
“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives; you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
As for the practicalities of getting there, I had read several bad reviews of the day trip from Istanbul and one that said don’t be put off. I agree, yes it’s a long day, hotel pick up at 6.30am and drop off at about 10.30pm, but worth it, and our trip was not at all unpleasant or uncomfortable. I knitted on the bus; a fitting thing to do. We were pleased to have a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide, TJ from TJ’s tours, who made the tour that much more interesting. We booked through a travel agency in Istanbul – Eyewitness Travel – who contacted TJ to make sure there was room for us and confirm arrangements.
In a couple of weeks it will be filled with visitors who make the journey to commemorate the landing of the ANZACs back on 25 April 1915 – 98 years ago. I am very glad that we made the effort to visit.